Apr 14, 2013

Thoughts on Spring: Persecutions and Risen Bodies

Spring has finally arrived in Prague after a long, cold, snowy March. It was so wonderful to be able to eat dinner on my terrace overlooking the river (spinach pasta and Tempe). The sun is shining, the air is crisp, the birds are singing, and my neighbors are frolicking across the valley and shouting from their balconies.  That includes the little eight year old boy practicing his kung fu moves on the balcony at the moment. He waves, I wave, and life seems sweet. Six months ago he was blowing a trumpet on the balcony and filling the valley with song. 

Other signs of Spring would certainly include the transformed papacy of Francis, quietly working his humble way through a morass of problems, very few of which he can definitively solve, and not to everyone's  liking either. I'm simply grateful that a humble man has found his providential way into this 'top spot,' and now we wait for the reverberations to unfold. He  has already moved towards collegiality with his commission of eight cardinals, picked to advise him on reforms in the church. We will see. I have no great expectations of change from the top, only the expectation that his modest example will enable more and more 'official' figures to locate their cojones in their drawers and begin speaking common sense about key issues of justice (and injustice) within the church. Hopefully, Francis will both encourage these voices and listen to them attentively.

Already there are signs of change regarding the 'gay issue,' with several cardinals and bishops - finally, after much timidity and hesitation - coming out in support of civil unions for gay people at least. Even fiery Hans Kung has said the same, stopping short of endorsing gay adoptions, which he feels the church should not support. Oh well. On the one hand, I'm grateful for small favors, on the other hand a feeling of exasperation sinks in and impatience as well - with the obtuseness of these elderly males who control so much of the public face of the church. But then I remember that I'm not called to be a part of the day to day functioning of the church or to join a parish or to 'return' to Sunday eucharistic celebrations, all of that far behind me. I've been led to a smaller, simpler place on the margins, in peace and joy, celebrating the Eucharist on my own, occasionally with like-minded friends, and such moments fill my day with peace. In fact, I feel this daily celebration is the very heart of the day for me and the most important action I can perform. Gratitude to 'God' and the Lord Jesus and his Holy Feminine Spirit for leading me to this peaceful place outside all the clamor and discord of the institutional tent. A bit selfish of me, perhaps, and a bit cowardly, but interiorly I feel no 'connection' or moral or spiritual obligation to become a part of the official circus. Yet the sense of 'mystical obligation' is profound - to serve in whatever ways I feel called -  the spiritual healing and transformation of Mystical Mother Church. 

Rebel Girl at her wonderful blog Iglesia Discalza has posted several translated articles on Pope Francis which particularly struck me recently, and apologies if I don't link to each one, since I'm writing this from memory (and for my own clarity of mind). The first - another reflection/interview from Leonardo Boff, in which he ends with this powerful statement:

Do you think he could go live outside the Vatican?

Like John Paul I who, two days before dying, gathered the cardinals and announced that to them; two days later, he turned up dead.

Are you saying that Pope Francis would be taking a risk?

It's a risk, because there's a history in the Vatican of many assassinations, a long time ago. He should be careful because where there's a struggle for power, there's no love -- and power always seeks more power. He should handle this to make reforms without causing a schism. The base of the two previous popes was the fundamentalists like Opus Dei, Communion and Liberation, and the Knights of Christ. Those groups must be very unhappy with the new pope, who is more social [justice] based.

Since this blog, Gay Mystics, is dedicated to the memory of John Paul I, Albino Luciani, and since I am one among many who are convinced the saintly, gentle man was assassinated, this affirmation of that opinion from one of the greats of Liberation theology resonated deep within me. A powerful reminder about how 'dangerous' life in the Vatican can be for a reforming pope, a sentiment which should give us a measure of patience and tolerance for any attempted reforms of Father Francis.

And then this extraordinary interview:

Fr. Antonio, a Capuchin friar, spent ten years in prison on trumped up charges, and he would be considered a representative of the Catholic 'left' in Latin American. So his ringing endorsement of Pope Francis is inspiring to read, as is the entire interview with this extremely interesting and charismatic man. But this statement in particular struck me, because like Leonardo Boff's above, it highlights the difficulties any well meaning pope must face:

Fr. Antonio Puigjané: "I think Francis will address celibacy"

What decisions should Francis make in the Vatican?Take apart that sort of Mafia that exists among the cardinals. The Vatican is a circus and he has to take that apart little by little. He's already begun. There've been some gestures already. Very subtly, intelligently. I tried to watch when he greeted the cardinals. He treated all of them with great affection, but at the same time he ought to be wary of them. Because, taken together, they're a sort of huge Mafia that doesn't even come close to Jesus' plan. And I think Pope Francis wants to go back to Jesus' plan, like Saint Francis of Assisi. It's very hard, because the anti-power...He has said that the real power is the power of service, and it's true. Jesus even gave his life to serve.

And there we have it, thoughts of assassinations and the insidious influence of a Cardinalate Mafia, what could make things more difficult? So patience and tolerance is called for, as well as the acknowledgement that real change must come from the bottom up and from the margins, for which Francis has expressed the deepest affections. We will see.

Terry Weldon has some wonderful, hope inspiring articles at his seminal blog, Queering the Church, two on recent statements by Cardinals and Bishops coming out in support of civil unions, HERE and HERE. But the article that most warmed my heart was this GREAT STORY of a gay teen attending a Catholic high school who managed to convince the Bishop that the traditional Church language on homosexuality was indeed harmful to young gay people. This is indeed a victory for decency and common sense. 

In Canada, objections by a Catholic student in a Catholic High School has resulted in a Catholic bishop removing a much reviled cornerstone of Catholic teaching on homosexuality, on “intrinsically disordered” from his school website.

 And this great photo of the boy and his father:

On another front, just to bring us back down to earth, here is a disheartening yet all too familiar STORY about the fact that sex education classes for teens conducted by New York public schools are banned in buildings owned by the Catholic Church. One reads this story in stupefaction and disbelief. The classes are banned because they discuss 'safe sex' and the risk of AIDS, not to mention that most horrible 'option', same sex relations. All anathema to the Catholic Church. What this means in practice is that students must trek from 15 to 30 minutes outside their normal school buildings to attend these classes, and they are quite aware of the reason - that a major religious denomination, which owns their school buildings, will not allow the classes on campus because the issues discussed and positions on safe sex recommended are opposed to the teachings of the Catholic Church. These affected students have, of course, discussed this absurd situation - and their understandable contempt for the RCC - on facebook and twitter. There goes another whole generation of young people successfully alienated from organized religion. One shakes one head in dumb disbelief. How could any organization be so stupid, and why would anyone support it, or join it or have any faith in it whatsoever, let alone allow one's own children to be in any way influenced by it. Get Behind Me Satan. if I can be permitted a melodramatic reaction.

Finally,  there is the news of the young and very dedicated gay Catholic minister in New York state- removed from his ministerial duties by the local bishop because the young man married his partner in a civil ceremony - this story has been circulating in the blogosphere for some days. National Catholic Reporter has an excellent article on this issue by Jamie Mason, 

Gay Catholic barred from ministry still faithful, hopeful

I rarely comment at this site, but this time I made an exception:

The outpouring of support for Nicholas Coppola is encouraging and heartwarming indeed, as is his own unwavering loyalty to the Church, despite the abusive treatment he was subject to at the hands of a misguided authority. It is painful to acknowledge that the Church in its official leadership has once again singled out a vulnerable minority group for oppressive treatment, based upon an intrinsically disordered moral teaching, which cannot stand up to any kind of authentic theological or scriptural scrutiny. Do we need to be reminded of how often in the past the church has done this? It was the Fourth Lateran Council which decreed: "Jews and Saracens(Muslims) of both sexes in every Christian province and at all times shall be marked off in the eyes of the public through the character of their dress." The end result was the 'Yellow Star," a practice binding upon all Catholic leadership with the same moral strictures as the church now pronounces upon/against gay unions and the use of contraceptives. The practice did not fade out in Europe until the Age of Enlightenment at the end of the 18th century, only to be resurrected by the Nazis who made explicit reference to the decree of the 4th Lateran Council! And this from Pope Saint Pius V: "We order that, within 90 days, all Jews in our entire earthy realm of justice - in all towns, districts, and places - must depart these places. (If they fail to comply) they shall become slaves of the Roman Church, live in perpetual servitude and the Roman Church shall have the same rights over them as the remaining worldly lords over slaves and property." Why was Pope Pius so insistent? Because, in his words, "For the salvation of our own people, it becomes necessary to prevent their (the Jews') disease. We have carefully investigated how this revolting sect abuses the name of Christ and how harmful they are to those whose life is threatened by their deceit." Catholics were bound by these strictures under pain of sin. This was a paramount Catholic Rule of the day and not to follow it (by expelling any Jews in one's employ) was to risk excommunication! This warped and destructive theological analyses was based upon Scripture, and buttressed by the authority of the Pope. We can be thankful that the language used against same sex orientation is not quite so pernicious as that used against the Jews in ages past. But it is just as fatally flawed `and indefensible, in light of the findings of the contemporary social sciences. The problem, as I see it, is not the teaching itself as it is with the inability of Church leadership to admit just how wrong authority has been and can be in some of its moral teachings. It is precisely the living witness of outstanding Catholics like Nicholas Coppola which drives home this fact. When persons of such integrity and evident compassion and humanity, feel called to express their love for their partners in a sexually responsible way, this should cause us all to question any church teaching which denigrates such loving relationships. How dare we suggest such relationships must be 'intrinsically disordered' and merely an expression of 'selfishness' and 'sin.' Based upon the terrible errors of the past, in true humility, we must ask whether -yet again- the Church has failed to see the living humanity of an oppressed minority group before it, and has preferred instead to worship  the false idol of an infallible authority.

Fortunately, most of the comments in response to this article were warmly supportive of Nicholas Coppola, so it looks as if indeed the tide is changing within the RCC (while keeping in mind NCR is a 'leftie' journal in many centrist Catholics opinion.)

However, to close this series of random reflections and references on a note of spring, here is a truly wonderful slogan:


William D. Lindsey said...

Jayden, thank you for a beautiful and hopeful meditation, from the "margins" that are the heart of our church, I suspect.

Richard Jayden Cameron said...

Thanks, Bill, it does take an effort to be hopeful sometimes, and we sometimes have to look for signs of hope in the least likely places. Speaking of which, the seat of the papacy is the very least likely place I would have looked, yet look at what has happened there!